For children with no baptismal certificate the school gates seem to be closed

Opinion: The State surely has a duty to offer parents access to secular education for their children

Thu, Dec 12, 2013, 00:01

My son, who will be four years old in March, is not baptised. He has been rejected from all four national schools in our area – Dublin 6.

I put his name down for all of them, two of them religious schools, when he was a baby.

The little Church of Ireland school, which is the nearest one to our home, has had his name on its application list since he was six weeks old. In its letter last month the board of management “regrets to inform” me that my application has been “unsuccessful”.

“Your child is currently number 177 on our waiting list . . . All offers of places were made in accordance with the school enrolment policy.”

The criteria according to which children can get in the queue are then set out. There are 11 categories, the first being “Church of Ireland children of the [local] parishes,” followed by “COI siblings/Protestant siblings” followed by COI children from outside the parishes. Next in are COI children from inter-church marriages, then other Protestant children, then other siblings, then children of inter-church marriages where the child is not COI, children of staff, Roman Catholic Children, Orthodox children and last, the category into which my son falls,
“other children”.

This school will take any child of almost any faith from anywhere in the country before they will take an unbaptised child living around the corner.

The Roman Catholic school is a little further away. My son is 117th on the waiting list. His name has been down since he was a baby, but date of application is not relevant there, the principal told me. The letter turning him away from there said siblings of current pupils were prioritised. This is understandable and “all 17 such applicants are being offered places”.

“The remaining 17 places are being offered to Catholic children resident within the Catholic parish . . . We regret that we are unable to offer your child a place in our junior infant class for 2014.”

The waiting game
The other two other schools, one a non-denominational Gaelscoil and the other multi-denominational, should surely be more welcoming and as I had his name down with the multi-d since he was three weeks old I was hopeful. However when I called I was told he was “about 220th on the list”. The enrolment secretary told me parents travelled from across Dublin to enrol their children there, such is the demand. Again at at the Gaelscoil, with parents travelling from across the city to get their kids in, he’s 239th on the waiting list.

There is clearly huge demand for school places in Dublin 6, not helped by parents – including myself – applying to several schools, and this affects all families. What is also clear however is that denominational or faith schools’ enrolment criteria impact in a gross and disproportionate way on children such as my son, by excluding them simply because they have not been baptised. To be clear, these State-funded faith-schools – which account for 96 per cent of primary schools – are allowed to direct a religiously based exclusion at children as young as four. This is unacceptable. It is particularly heinous in a democracy which describes itself as a Republic.

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